“We used to be free,” her grandparents would say. “Beyond these mountains is the whole world. If we can find our lost master key, we can be free again.”
For her, who had only ever known the life she now had serving the masters in the mountain basin, it was hard to understand what ‘freedom’ meant. But it was important to everyone else, so she also looked for the fabled key too.
And they found it.
A cube with symbols on each side, small enough to fit in her hand. Each side opened one of the six hidden doorways that connected this place to the outside world.
But finding the master key was just the beginning. They had to bring the key to one of the six hidden doorways without being caught by their masters. Her grandparents still remembered the way out, so in the darkness of the night, they gathered everyone and slipped towards one of the hidden doorways.
The masters were already there.
“You didn’t think we’ll let you go so easily, did you? Hand us the master key.”
The masters were much stronger than them, so they had no choice but to hand over the cube. Before their eyes, the masters smashed the key. Except, the key wouldn’t break, so they kicked it into the river instead.
She didn’t understand what ‘freedom’ meant, but it was important to everyone else, so she chased after the key and jumped in.
The frigid water stole her breath the moment she went under. She pressed her lips together to keep the rest of her breath in. Pushing past the pins and needles in her body from the cold, she swam deeper into the water towards the sinking shadow that was the key to their freedom.
But by the time her fingers closed around the cube, it wasn’t the cube that was a shadow, but everything else. She clutched the cube to her chest as she sunk helplessly into darkness.
When she woke up, it was to unfamiliar faces at a new riverbank and an endless sky.
She was outside.
Her fingers still clutched the master key. She kept it close, and refused to let go even as she slipped back into unconsciousness.
She would return, and she would set her family free.